Enough of this Contempt for Land Management Practitioners

I am proud to be a land management practitioner, for me and many others there is nothing more rewarding than going home to your family after completing a contract. Leaving behind a newly planted area of land, a landscaped garden, dry stone wall or well laid hedge, a neat tree pruning or any other new feature in the landscape adding value to that landscape for all.

A whole host of varying professions; farmers, foresters, arborists, gardeners and of course the landscaper, very different and with their own languages, combine to keep all landscapes alive.

Hardy’s, even Laurie Lee’s, rich cultural rural landscape has disappeared because the vast majority of land management practitioners have shifted from the rural to the urban and particularly suburban landscape. The proof can be found in any social economic statistics gathered for our most treasured rural landscapes, where land management practitioners register as negligible. Development is where it is at – the ‘it’ being money. There are of course some left in our most beautiful rural landscapes, but it is vastly reduced. It seems the more beautiful, the more protected a landscape is, the population of land management practitioners decreases. It is all too easy to assume that the traditional knowledge of land management practitioners is at huge risk and it is an assumption I myself have made. But following some enforced reflection on the matter I have to agree that it has simply shifted. Should you want to see a new well built dry stone wall, or hedgerow, or well pruned tree – even a new orchard or tree planting, then you need to look in the suburban landscape.

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There are still many land management practitioners about, they won’t call themselves that, but gardeners and landscapers in particular abound – omnipresent in all our villages and towns. It is tough work for little money. It is work that often requires a breadth of knowledge and aptitude, which is belittled by an increasingly dumped down media. There are many local allies to the land management industry; allotmenteers and amateur gardeners. And it is still an axiom that should you require good localised land management knowledge, corner old Bob leaning on his spade rather than visiting the library to find the latest scientific papers or worse – watching TV gardening / countryside shows – which can never take account of the glorious myriad of issues which combine to create our extraordinarily diverse landscapes, which do not stop at the town sign.
The division between the varying professions involved in the management of our landscapes is probably what has caused the greatest problems for land industry as a whole. We are all too easily divided and conquered. Just as landlubbers struggled to understand the language of our seamen, we struggle to understand each land professions language – let alone their techniques. Tap many practitioner words, even the profession title into a search engine and it is underlined in red. For example, from my branch of land management: Snedding, Brashing, and even Arboriculturalist. Add in the huge range of localised terms for the tools and materials we use and it becomes very difficult indeed. Do we need a common glossary? I have often said we do – but we would lose something precious and I also believe that the sheer quantity of land management practitioners out there will blithely ignore it as is their right too.

Thus any amount of new terminology proffered to us is unlikely to be taken on board. Many recent terms developed by academics then absorbed and twisted by policy makers describe what is little more than common sense – and trying to sell common sense to an industry largely made up of small independent businesses who work long hours for little money and still survive is like selling coals to Newcastle. But surprisingly and scarily often these terms or ideas are simply nonsense having taken little account, indeed ignoring, many localised factors and the reality of the economics involved – Biodiversity Offsetting being a classic example.
Having been invited to help look into methods of bridging the chasms between those with interests in landscapes has been an eye opener in regards just how wide and deep these chasms are – however maybe this is a good thing. A practitioner friend stated ‘Be careful in building bridges as some may use it as a lowered drawbridge’. And this is a very apparent risk, particularly in rural ‘beautiful’ landscapes, where the Quango, NGO, accreditation staff now surely out number the practitioners themselves, certainly they believe they outrank them. And one wonders how many miles of dry stone wall are getting built in comparison with the amount of time, money and effort taken in discussing the ‘value’ of such immensely important landscape features.

It is very important to remember that it is private clients who are paying for the vast majority of good, sustainable land management and an ever increasing range of innovative land management solutions – designed at first for their own personal needs. If they profit, as they can, from ongoing benefits from the landscape they help to create and / or maintain either by way of aesthetics or from high quality produce then everyone wins.
And it is due to the influence of private clients that we practitioners have to have rigid insurance and operate under strict legal constraints. This should enable us to lead from the front in regards sustainable land management goals, so why are we at the rear? The answer is that others with ‘landscape’ interests, who have the time to shout more loudly also, are able to operate without such constraint and recently I was told this these constraints were a ‘problem’ by an academic. Really! – Imagine if such insurance and legal constraints were placed on bankers and estate agents – surely we would not have had the mess we are still all paying for. The ‘problem’ is that those others with an interest in land management do not have the same constraints – asides from the public, where it should always remain as free as it can be.

The land management practitioner base is disenfranchised, very widely ignored – but it is where the solutions lie and still strong enough to create more solutions. And with all this talk of communication it is far past the time to realise this doesn’t just mean asking but listening also, however hard it may be to understand. The result will inevitably highlight just how localised things really are when considering everything that creates a landscape – and where are the practitioners? Slap bang in the middle of each local landscape. And ultimately we need to learn to trust our land management practitioners, which we can do now in the vast majority of our landscapes, who have largely carried on regardless and continue to maintain the landscapes we value so highly.

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